Gay couples in Colorado are just one signature away from civil unions

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Gay couples in Colorado will have the right enter into civil unions as of May 1, pending the expected endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper on a bill that sailed through both the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

The bill passed its next-to-last legislative hurdle on Tuesday, when the House passed it by a vote of 39-26, with two Republicans voting in favor. Hickenlooper has said he would sign the bill into law.

In a welcome rest from the rancor that has characterized much of the legislative session over gun control, the civil union bill was debated without much of the heated rhetoric that characterized its attempt at passage last year.

During the last legislative session, Republicans held the majority in the House and the speaker, Rep. Frank McNulty, refused to bring the bill to the floor before the session expired. It was believed to have had enough votes to pass.

Gov. John Hickenlooper called a special session of the legislature to give lawmakers a chance to debate the bill, but McNulty assigned it to a Republican-controlled committee where it was killed.

With Democrats dominating the legislature this year, it was reintroduced without some of last year’s concession-seeking amendments, such as allowing religious-based adoption agencies that are opposed to same-sex unions to refuse to place children with gay couples. Republicans tried in vain to include the exemption again.

During testimony in January, a representative of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado said the bill could force the organization to stop offering adoptions in Colorado without such an amendment. Catholic Charities only adopts children to married men and women.

Gay couples cannot be legally married in Colorado without repealing Amendment 43 of the state constitution, which defines marriage as “a union of one man and one woman.” It was adopted in 2006.

But the civil union bill confers many of the same rights enjoyed in marriage by same-sex couples, such as the right for partners to be considered family members, to adopt a child, to receive survivor benefits and to participate in medical decisions, among others.

The bill was introduced, as in years past, by Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the new speaker of the House, who is one of eight openly gay lawmakers in the state legislature.

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